From classroom to computer almost overnight, students left school in mid March wondering how classes would shift online. For many youth in underserved communities like Boyle Heights, with limited access to technology and high-speed internet at home, the pandemic wouldn’t be the only crisis they would have to face.
“I was so worried about how I’d be able to get my schoolwork done and show up to class daily because I didn’t have a laptop at home,” says Christopher Rosas, a senior at Felicitas & Gonzalo Méndez High School in Boyle Heights. “There was still so much left of the semester for me to get through in order to graduate.”
To address what they’ve identified as an unprecedented educational crisis, InnerCity Struggle (ICS) joined forces with two South LA- based organizations – Community Coalition and Brotherhood Crusade – to launch a Digital Justice Campaign to raise $400,000 to help close the digital divide for 5,000 LAUSD students.
“These disparities have always been present in low-income communities of color since we’ve been historically underinvested in, on so many different fronts,” says Daniela Hernández, Director of Youth Organizing at ICS. “This pandemic exacerbated these inequalities so we knew we as an organization part of the community needed to push for solutions bringing equity and justice for our people.”
The campaign was in part inspired by conversations ICS had with youth leaders like Rosas who, who had limited, shared access to technology and high-speed internet outside of school. According to a recent USC Annenberg Research Paper, less than half of households in South and East L.A. have necessary technological resources for distance learning.
“Every student in the district has had to adjust from in-person classes to distance learning online but not everybody came home to the same kind of house,” says Hernández. “Being in tune with what our students need and understanding what the community as a whole is going through guides so much of the work we’ve been doing during the pandemic.”
In just the past few weeks the campaign has distributed over 200 laptops to Eastside youth alongside noise-cancelling headphones and hotspots, to help low-income students disproportionately affected by the transition online. Donations are done in compliance with social distancing guidelines and campaign distributors always wear masks and gloves during the donations.
“I’m so thankful because if it wasn’t for the support of this campaign, I honestly don’t know if I’d have been able to graduate,” says Rosas. “With the semester coming to a close I know I want to go to college to major in Sociology so I’m able to work with and support people through social work just like how ICS did for me and the community I grew up in.”
In addition to this campaign, ICS has also been working to provide direct monetary support to families in need, providing over 200 households with gift cards to use for food, rent and living essentials. Hernández says the organization has continued to organize digitally, keeping the community engaged and informed on the upcoming election as well as the 2020 census.
InnerCity Struggle is a nonprofit organization which has been working since 1994 to build a movement of youth and families on the Eastside of Los Angeles, to promote holistically healthy communities through education, activism and advocacy.